Hentai: A Commentary on Consent

Hentai, as most of us know it, is Japanese animated pornography. Directly translated, it refers specifically to “abnormal sexual desires” such as tentacle porn or other hardcore pornography. 

Outside of Japan, the term is used as a catch-all to refer to any type of animated pornography. Some of the most popular or well-known hentai categories include tentacle porn, lolita porn (porn where young children-like girls are sexually involved. They are usually hundreds or thousands of years old magical or supernatural entities with childlike bodies.), and rape, sexual assault, or otherwise dubious consensual acts. Particularly, this last category appears in hentai a lot more frequently than in real person scripted pornography, with many different types of violations that may happen to women. 

 

Depiction of women in hentai

In most dubious consent heterosexual hentai, female characters can usually be reduced down to two major personality traits at opposing ends of a spectrum, akin to the Madonna-whore complex. In content with dubious consent are “women being raped” and “women as rapists” on both ends with problematic implications. 

1. The passive/reluctant

The passive or reluctant woman in hentai is an exaggerated representation of how a woman’s boundaries are violated, and how some men’s dogged persistence grants them pleasure at the woman’s expense. In a typical scene, the man has a one-sided sexual attraction to the woman, who he manipulates into having sex with him either physically or through fantastical means that render her powerless and unable to consent. In the former, the woman is very vocal about her reluctance and non-consent to the molestation and sexual assault. Yet, the man is unwavering in his forceful actions, sometimes even saying phrases such as, “If you don’t want it, then why does it sound like you enjoy it?” 

In this representation, there is the potential to perpetuate the idea that a woman is “enjoying” being raped because her body reacts to the stimulation by the man, and that her consent is futile. Though in some situations, if it is mentioned that the woman was a virgin, there would sometimes be blood drawn when the act occurs, and her pain would turn into physical pleasure due to the stimulation. This depiction signifies that pain on women’s end will turn into pleasure simply because of the men’s part in the act, and hence disregards any autonomy while conveying that women’s pain during sexual acts is normal.

2. The sex addict

On the other end of the spectrum is the “sex addict” female character who lusts after the male protagonist. Sometimes, she forces herself upon the male, raping him for her own pleasure. Hypersexualised and a product of the male gaze, this character fills the fantasy for some men — to be the one-and-only for a very attractive woman. In many hentai, the sex-addicted female character would go to great lengths to appeal to the male protagonist. Most of these actions, taken outside of the context of animated pornography, are degrading and sometimes dangerous. 

This contrasting characterisation could prime men to expect their sexual partners to bend to their wants as such characters do for the male protagonists. In such hentai, consent is also rarely brought up, and both the male and female characters’ boundaries are repeatedly breached by each other. Going both ways, it seems that boundaries in sexual acts are meant to be ignored which is not only expected, but also enjoyed.

 

Why does it matter?

One may argue that the more outlandish types of hentai is simply a fantasy and nothing more, just like the debate on violence in video games. However, in hentai, male protagonists’ are not shown or are extremely normal, while the women are hypersexualised, having larger breasts than average alongside extremely slim proportions. The facelessness of the male protagonists allows the viewer to imagine themselves in the position of the man, making it a more immersive experience. There are also shots where the female characters are animated looking directly at the viewer, making it seem even more interactive and stirs more arousal. 

Through neurostudies, we understand that dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, is released when your brain is expecting a reward. When you come to associate a certain activity with pleasure, mere anticipation may be enough to raise dopamine levels. Over time this can modify brain circuits and what you associate with “want.” Applying this to hentai and the rampant dubious consent content targeted at and meant to be enjoyed by men, hentai seems to signify something much more malign than “just a fantasy,” particularly if consumed over long periods of time.

It is also possible that people begin to kinkshame others who partake in sex that is similar to those that they see in hentai due to the problematic ways consent is being depicted. Consensual non-consent practices may then be rejected and lumped under sexual assault when in reality sex is so much more nuanced than that. As such, we move away from sex-positive practices when similar acts are depicted in such an unhealthy manner.

Still, the issues in hentai are not unique to hentai or Japan — the desire to dominate others and have them at one’s mercy for their pleasure (sexual or otherwise), is universal and goes beyond hentai, or even pornography.